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Marijuana dispensary owners not reporting robberies: Toronto police

Last Updated Jan 24, 2017 at 5:33 am EST

Toronto police are concerned about the number of robberies taking place at marijuana dispensaries across the city, and that those robberies are not being reported to police.

However, in at least two of the robberies police have investigated, the owners of the dispensaries have ended up facing charges themselves.

Marijuana dispensaries are still illegal, despite a promise from the federal Liberals to legalize marijuana. Currently, licensed medical marijuana producers can sell to patients with a prescription.

Police held a news conference at their headquarters on Monday to talk about several recent marijuana dispensary robberies and the violence associated with them.

Supt. Bryce Evans said the “multiple kilos” of pot held in these dispensaries, as well as money, edibles, and cannabis resin, are enough to make the stores a big target.

Starting in June of 2016, there were nine robberies of illegal marijuana storefront dispensaries, police said. In some of the robberies, the suspects were armed with handguns and in two cases shots were fired. In another case, the suspects were armed with knives. The owners were charged in two of the robberies.

Police said four of the nine robberies were not reported to police by the dispensary’s owners or employees, but rather by customers and passersby.

So far in 2017, four robberies have taken place. In two incidents, the suspects were armed with firearms and in one case, the suspect was armed with a knife. In another robbery, a shot was fired. Two of the robberies were not reported by the owners.

“During these […] robberies, employees and customers have been stabbed, pistol-whipped and pepper-sprayed. There is no doubt that the employees and customers have been traumatized by these violent armed robberies,” Evans said.

“This is absolutely a public safety issue now,” said Acting Inst. Steve Watts with the drug squad.

Despite the police crackdown on the illegal shops that started last spring, several stores continue to operate and many of them have been targeted by thieves.

The most recent incident happened on Jan. 15. A trio of masked bandits stormed into The Green Leaf dispensary on the Danforth, pistol-whipped an employee and fired a gunshot before fleeing with a stash of pot and money. One of the employees was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

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It’s the latest in a string of recent marijuana dispensary robberies in Toronto.

On Dec. 21, a Canna Clinic dispensary on Ossington Avenue was held up by four masked men. On Monday, Evans said four or five armed men stormed the store and ordered everyone to get on the floor as they stole items.

Evans said the next day, a customer went to the store to ask if the robbery was reported to the police. According to police, the employees denied that a robbery took place. When police went to the store, they found the employees uncooperative. He said the police were also refused access to surveillance videos in the store.

On Jan. 4, a Cannabis Culture dispensary at Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue was held up, reportedly at gunpoint. Police were called, but they said employees were hesitant to cooperate.

“I find it disturbing that the owners and operators of these storefronts refuse to cooperate, turn over evidence, and instruct their employees not to call the police or speak to the police,” Evans said.

“I realize that there is no legal obligation to report a crime, but where is your moral sense of an obligation? When will you step up to the plate for your employees and customers.”

Last spring, Toronto police executed several search warrants as part of “Project Claudia,” which targeted 43 marijuana dispensaries across the city. Police arrested 90 people and laid 186 drug trafficking charges.

At Monday’s news conference, police said they are concerned about the “rapid increase” of dispensaries and the lack of quality control over the products that may affect the health and safety of people. In particular, Evans said police are targeting edibles, which they say do not fall in the category of medicinal marijuana.

Correction: At a news conference on Monday, police said 13 marijuana dispensaries were robbed in 2016. They also said six of the 13 robberies were not reported to police. Police later said nine marijuana dispensaries were robbed in 2016, and four of the nine were not reported to police.